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With 35 candidates, Mpls. mayoral election cost $1.7M; officials want change

  • Blog Post by: Eric Roper
  • March 24, 2014 - 4:47 PM

Minneapolis election officials are recommending that city rules be changed to speed vote counting, eliminate frivolous candidacies and give tabulators more privacy.

A detailed report provided to the City Council's elections committee, which meets Tuesday, also shows that 2013 city elections cost $1.7 million. That's just over what city clerk Casey Carl originally requested, but much more than the $1.3 million the council approved.

One major driver of the cost was mailing a voter guide to every household in the city, which cost $97,536.

The election was the first major test of ranked choice voting, which allows voters to select three candidate preferences. Seventy-six percent of ballots in the mayor's race listed three choices. The city found the most common voter error was repeating a candidate in the rankings -- 3.28 percent of ballots in the election had this error.

"This reflects a common theme identified during voter outreach efforts, where many voters expressed the belief that 'bullet voting' would help a preferred candidate to advance in a race where additional rounds of tabulation were required," the report said.

An accompanying survey of 800 residents found that voters are somewhat split on their opinions of ranked choice voting. Forty-one percent said they prefer the traditional voting system, followed by 39 percent who prefer ranked-choice voting and 17 percent who did not have a preference.

Fifty-three percent of respondents said ranked choice voting should be used in future municipal elections, however. Thirty-seven percent said it should not.

Carl's office recommended in their report that ordinances should be changed for the 2017 municipal election to allow for batch elimination based on candidates' potential to win the election. Rather than eliminating all mathmatically impossible candidates at once, current ordinances use a slower method that was designed for hand counting.

The current rules and a glut of 35 mayoral candidates meant it took two 12-hour days to tabulate the results of the mayor's race. So many candidates received a minimal amount of votes, however, that Carl's office estimates that 91 percent could have been defeated in the first round of tabulation if the rules had been different.

That would have meant producing a final result in the afternoon following Election Day.

Carl's office also recommended increasing the $20 filing fee to get on the ballot.

"The public reasonably expects candidates to display a certain level of public support in order to appear on the ballot," the report said. "Requiring a candidate to pay a filing fee higher than the current fee of $20 (or allowing ballot access if they reach a certain number of signatures on a candidacy petition) achieves this goal."

Another oddity of the 2013 election was watching tabulators manipulate Excel spreadsheets via a Skype feed into the City Hall rotunda. Carl recommended changing the ordinance language to clarify that public observation of tabulation is only necessary if paper ballots are being handled.

Election Analysis by eric_roper

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